Mariupol, on the other side of the war

Mariupol, a city martyred by the war in Ukraine, then a forbidden city, and today a new city which seeks to emerge, buildings erected by Russian cranes. Few Western journalists can approach this open-air construction site, where missiles are still flying. Sylvain Tronchet, the correspondent of Radio France in Moscow, went there.

Mariupol, bruised city, martyred city of the war in Ukraine. Russia has undertaken to rebuild the city to make it a symbol of the “New Russia” wanted by the Kremlin. Sylvain Tronchet, correspondent of Radio France in Moscow went there, he worked with Alain Barluet, correspondent of Figaro in Moscow. We heard the reports of Sylvain Tronchet, all day of June 5 on the antenna of franceinfo.

From Mariupol, we kept images of horror, a bombed maternity ward, pregnant women and newborns killed, a theater collapsed under the bombs, with civilians inside, ruins, blood, deaths by the thousands . War scenes immortalized by Ukrainian photographers and videographers, Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka, winners of the last Bayeux Prize for war correspondents, war scenes that the new authorities want to erase from local memory. The ruins of the theater are covered with a tarpaulin.

The theater of Mariupol, where 300 to 600 people perished in a bombing by the Russian army, is surrounded by a gigantic tarpaulin.  Its reopening is announced for the end of 2024. (SYLVAIN TRONCHET / RADIO FRANCE)

Arriving in Mariupol, Sylvain Tronchet was immediately struck by the extent of the construction site: road infrastructure, brand new and colorful buildings, hotels for tourists. The objective of the new Mariupol aims to erase its industrial past, to become a seaside resort on the Sea of ​​Azov. With a local television channel, whose editorial line is based on the progress of construction sites.

The studio of "Mariupol 24".  (SYLVAIN TRONCHET / RADIO FRANCE)

The war, we don’t want to hear about it anymore

The Ukrainian counter-offensive would be a disaster. And we can understand these testimonies of the population collected by Sylvain Tronchet; people worn down by nine years of war in the Donbass. Ukrainians or pro-Ukrainians are overwhelmingly dead or gone; only the pro-Russians or families who no longer identify themselves as such remain, but display a single desire: peace. And the promise of a better tomorrow is embodied by this new city that diggers and Russian cranes are bringing out of the ground.

This “techno-park” which would like to push on the old factory of Azovstal, where the bloodiest clashes took place. A techno-park, on this place of battle, says a lot about the desire to erase the resistant memory, which had materialized here. Bypassing the site requires 15 to 20 minutes by car, it shows the extent of the perimeter, but difficult to go beyond the project stage, the site is not cleared, and the missiles fly above, qu ‘imported.

The propaganda message: the war was yesterday, it’s over there now. This denial comes up against a social context which remains that of war. No income, no work, low allowances, not to say derisory. The report in the streets of Mariupol can be read here.

The silhouette of the old Azovstal factory in Mariupol, totally destroyed by the fighting that took place there.  Russia says it wants to turn the site into "techno-park".  (RADIO FRANCE / SYLVAIN TRONCHET)

Sylvain Tronchet and Alain Barluet, correspondent of Figaro in Moscow, worked together. Since the war, Western journalists have struggled to get to Mariupol, it is behind the front line. The only possible access is from the Russian side. You still need to have the accreditations. But attached to the Donetsk region – which Russia officially “annexed” last September – Mariupol is considered by Moscow to be a Russian city. And journalists who have a Russian visa can therefore – if we refer to this principle – enter the suburbs of the city, and circulate there very freely.

This is how the two French journalists were able to practice their profession in excellent conditions. Whether from a security or editorial point of view. They have never been prevented from working. Local authorities simply declined interviews. The inhabitants who are not comfortable with reporters from so-called “unfriendly” countries refuse to discuss. Only a few lend themselves to the game of questions and answers, in a quite relative frankness. Speech is not necessarily free. And in public expression, everyone weighs their words.

On the walls of Mariupol, in Ukraine, there are many posters left by residents looking for relatives who disappeared following the bombings.  (SYLVAIN TRONCHET / RADIO FRANCE)

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